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Solera or Alma? It's Up To You

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Mrs. Gutgrease and I are going out to dinner tomorrow night (Wednesday the 24th....Flag Day in Mexico according to my wall calendar!). There is no special occasion, just that we don't eat out much. She tossed out Solera because she's heard good things about it. I tossed out Alma, since I've read good things about it on Chowhound. Price is not an issue and I realize that they are vastly different restaurants styles.

What would you choose? Your opinions will help guide our choice.

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  1. I've been to both (Alma very recently) and I'd definitely go with Alma.

    The high-quality ingredients, many from local farmers, tip the scales. I think Solera is a pretty good example of a tapas restaurant. I think Alma is a world-class example of a local foods/ "American posh" restaurant.

    1. Alma. Alma. Alma.

      Solera is fine. It's not the best tapas restaurant in the world but certainly good and fun enough. I like the style and decor of the restaurant and I like drinking lots of wine. You'd have a fine time. It's been over a year since I've been but I can't imagine it's changed all that much.

      But if I ate out on a limited basis (and this is true for me, at least for nice dinners, what with having to get a babysitter etc etc etc), I'd choose Alma without even thinking about it. The food is truly, deeply good. Just ate there last week and had the pheasant as my third course-- so light and tasty with a thin, just barely there crispy skin, and it came with a lentil - pheasant confit side, made with foie gras butter (who even knew such a thing existed?! not me, anyway) that was sublime.

      Alma.

      (it should probably be noted that I'm married to mtullius. so you know, these are not totally independent opinions. not that you should count them less. just so you know)

      1. A third opinion (and one from outside of mtullius/turtlebellas marriage) for Alma. While ive been gone from the TCs for a couple months working my way through the wonderous world of NYC eats, Alma would be my first stop if i was looking for a date-night type night out. it is, without question, our favorite "nice" restaurant in the twin cities (i can't compare pupuas/huaraches/pho whith alma's offerings).

        Obviously i can't comment on the contents of the current menu, but as for the style i MUCH prefer alma's three course approach ( i am not a sweets lover, so i enjoy it when three courses means three savory courses and not an appetizer/entree/dessert) to the tapas format at Solera. ive had some good food at solera but much of it feels overly precious, and while you say price is not an issue, even when im out for a splurge i hate feeling like i spent a lot of money and came away hungry. also i know people are always saying how romantic tapas is ( for the record ive celebrated valentines -though never on feb 14th) at both restaurants but i much prefer a group of 4 or so which allows for a greater number of dishes to be ordered and samples.

        go to alma, get the three course tasting menu. i always get cheese for dessert but we've had some really tasty desserts there as well though id stay towards the puddings/mousses/fritters after a so-so cake experience there one time (there was, once upon a time, a chocolate mousse with sea salt and olive oil that was out of this world).

        the only category id give to Solera over Alma is drinks. Theres no full bar at alma and the wine is at the high end of normal markups for the twin cities - but again you said that price isnt an issue for you so that shouldnt be a major concern.

        1. La Belle Vie is a better comparison to Alma and is the best restaurant in the city in my opinion.

          2 Replies
          1. re: meljohns

            I should add that I normally do the tasting menu in the lounge. I like that space better, you can order a la carte and the tasting menu is a course less (four for $40) than the normal tasting ( you can get the normal tasting in the lounge also). Cocktails are delicious.

            1. re: meljohns

              I'll be the contrary opinion here. I would go with Solera. Although many people just adore Alma, my experiences there have been nothing more than average. Solera is not a typical tapas restaurant -- it's tapas with an upscale interpretation, currently being prepared by JP Samuelson, formerly of JP's on Lyndale.

              I also agree with meljohns that La Belle Vie is better than both places.

            2. Alma, hands down. My favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities. The staff is fantastic and highly knowledgeable, and you can tell they genuinely love working there. The open kitchen is fun to watch, and the food is phenomenal. It's refined, but still casual enough where you don't feel out of place if you only dine like that on very special occasions.

              1. Alma by miles and miles and miles.

                I've been to both places a handful of times and Solera is a great late night happy hour spot, but not a destination spot for dinner.

                1. Tres easy decision - ALMA

                  Just checked the current menu and jfood is salivating. Lucky you. Enjoy

                  1. Thanks folks. The response was 8-0 in favor of Alma, so we decided upon that.....until this morning. Our Supper Club decided out of the blue to go to Alma next month. We're going to hold off but thanks for all of the replies. It certainly set us straight

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: GutGrease

                      We finally made it out to Alma. I have to say that they do provide an impressive meal. I had the Arugula & Potato Salad, which was my favorite part of the meal. I liked the kick in the whitefish. My second course was the Spicy Prawns, which were good although certainly more gamey / fishy than I expected. My third course was the 12 Hour Beef Roast, which was very tender and tasted good but not much different than something I could have thrown in a crock pot for the same 12 hours. For dessert I had the "Bent River" Camembert, which is a local cheese and was very good. Mrs. Gutgrease had the Endive & Poached Pear salad, which she enjoyed. Her second course was the Rabbit Pillows special. Several of our group had it and all found it to taste good, but hard to detect any rabbit. For her final course Mrs. Gutgrease had the Gently Cooked Trout. We both enjoyed it but didn't detect anything special about the dish.

                      We both had the same impression about Alma: they produce a very good meal, the service is fantastic, and the portions are perfect. With two beers and a glass of wine the total with tip was a little over $160 for the two of us. We were both glad that we went and experienced it. As my screen name implies, I guess that I don't have much of a refined palate. I usually sigh after leaving restaurants such as this, pondering why we just spent $160 on a meal that didn't "wow" us and wasn't any more spectacular (to us) than a dinner at a more reasonably priced joint. Don't take my post as negative about Alma, as they do a great job. Take it as a rant against spending that kind of money on one meal.

                      I'd definitely recommend Alma to anyone looking for a really good meal with great service and ambiance.

                      1. re: GutGrease

                        Sounds like the review I posted a few years ago. I found Alma mostly competent, not particularly memorable, for a very high price. Definitely not the rapturous experience that others have reported. For really fine dining, I'd direct people to La Belle Vie.

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                        La Belle Vie
                        510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405